September Salt

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Ex-pecially You

Chapter Eleven: Ex-pecially You

JOEY

My reply to Freddie message was a sneeze, and tears immediately sprang to my eyes. “Shit,” I muttered. The stupidity in spending as long as I had in the cold and the rain was only just catching up to me. Honey—or was it lemon?—tea had been mum’s suggestion, but I was pretty sure that that particular concoction was for sore throats. Either way, I just wanted to curl up in bed after a hot shower and read what was left of the book I’d received for my birthday. I was getting into it, and I could see the similarities mum had been hinting at.

But I would have to wait.

Friday night had been the last straw for my relationship. I’d held on longer than I should have anyway, so it was a little bit of an excuse, but it was a welcome and a valid one. She couldn’t argue too much with that.

I was looking through my Spanish textbook for the page Freddie had told me to turn to when I finally heard the doorbell ring. Before I could leave my room, I heard Courtney’s voice. My mum’s. Footsteps on the stairs.

I froze where I stood.

I couldn’t do it. How could I? And, really, why should I have? Courtney wasn’t perfect, but who was? She was the only person who had ever told me they loved me, barring my mother, and Ryan when he thought he was being funny. Barring my dad.

That felt like a really small list for a seventeen year old.

Maybe I just needed to try harder. Make some sort of effort and refuel the areas I was lacking in. Maybe kissing Kelsey didn’t matter; she hadn’t meant it, so it meant nothing.

I stood as I heard the creak of the floorboard in front of my bedroom door and watched the handle turn downwards at the pressure of her hand.

Courtney looked apologetic. It was a good sign. Her murmured “I’m sorry,” was good too, and the small smile she offered.

“It didn’t mean anything,” I replied, “Right?” She shrugged, and then shook her head. I decided to wilfully ignore the first action. “Why’d you do it?”

Courtney shifted where she stood, then she stepped forward and closed the door behind her. My eyes drifted down to her bare legs, held close together. I wondered how she didn’t freeze. Girls were pretty fearless to wear skirts in the kind of weather we’d been having recently. She gestured to my bed.

“Can we sit?”

And she did, after a moment. So I did too.

“You already know that I was pretty drunk. It wasn’t like I was thinking straight.” I wanted to chuckle at the irony of her words, but managed to control myself. True as that may have been, it was a feeble answer; I’d seen the look in her eyes. She’d enjoyed it—every part of it, down to the attention she’d received—but she wasn’t finished. “But then Ryan started throwing people out when you left. Wouldn’t listen to me when I told him that I was supposed to stay over. Pete offered to walk me home.” I felt the corners of my lips drift downwards as my eyebrows met in the middle. “Then,” she shrugged. Her eyes lifted up to meet mine as she offered me some sort of a consoling smile. “But don’t worry. He was shit.”

My mouth fell open a little, and in the next second I sneezed.

Courtney shot up off my bed, cringing away from the germs I’d just released as I covered my mouth belatedly.

"Ugh, what the fuck, Joe-”

“What the fuck?” I repeated between sniffs, unable to help choking out a laugh as I stood slowly, turning to face her. I blinked. “You slept with Pete..?”

Her face contorted in confusion. “You—you knew—”

“You slept with Pete,” I interrupted, “On the same night that you made out -fuck, and more, with Kelsey in a room full of guys. You slept with him. And, as if I should be glad or something, tell me that at least he was shit? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Her eyes narrowed in defensive anger as mine did so in amused disbelief. “You didn’t know.”

I shook my head, unable to understand her nerve. ”No.” There she was stood, glaring at me as if I’d done something wrong. Blaming me for what she’d done because I’d somehow unknowingly tricked her into confessing. The apologetic look she’d adopted before couldn’t have been genuine. I should have known.

“But Ryan said—you said we need to talk.”

“I did.”

“When I asked Ryan if he told you, he asked why he wouldn’t have-” I shrugged my shoulders. “So you weren’t going to break up with me because of Pete?”

“I was thinking about breaking up with you because of Kelsey, but Pete is a pretty good reason too. What the hell is wrong with you, Courtney? Why do you even want to be with me if you’re just going to fuck around?”

There was a moment of tense silence before her expression grew poisonously curious. Sly. As though she knew something I didn’t. “Maybe I should be asking you that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Why did you ever want to be my boyfriend when you never really seemed interested? Maybe Ryan was right. Everyone else may have believed what he said was a joke, but I heard the truth in what he said.” I felt my body grow rigid as she grinned even wider, folding her arms across her full chest. Her eyes caught me. “No one else kisses you and feels you hesitate like I do. And... Surely, only guilty fuckers run.”

“I—I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No, but I do. And Ryan does.”

“He was fucking joking, Courtney. I’d like it if you left now.”

“Yeah. He’s always joking.” She smiled in the most dangerous way. “Even when I fuck him.”

FREDDIE

“You could have told me!” I hissed at Lou. She pouted at me, hands on hips.

“I’m sorry. Should I make sure to text you every time I invite a friend over?”

“Don’t be a douche! You only have to text me every time you invite over a friend that also happens to be my ex-boyfriend.”

She grinned, clearly entirely ware of what I’d meant. “Oh, yes. That little detail. Whatever, I thought you guys were good.”

“Yes, we’re good, but I’m in unflattering trackies and a nail-varnish stained t-shirt,” I complained. Sherry laughed from beside me until I sent her a glare that would wither fields of wheat. “Shut up, he’s in the living room.”

“So you’re still trying to attract him, huh?” Lou smirked.

“Attract him,” Sherry snorted.

“Can you just go keep him in that room so we can leave the kitchen?”

“I already told him you’re here and that I was going to get you. He’ll know.”

“Fuck!”

“Stop being poultry and just come say hi,” Lou said flippantly.

“I’ll hold your hand if you’re too much of a baby,” Sherry offered. It was probably a joke, but that was the only way I could see myself entering the living room willingly. Seeing Jay.

We’d dated for four months until five months ago. I’d missed him a hell of a lot for the first one and a half, resigned myself to the reality of the situation for the next couple of weeks, and pretended to stop thinking about him since. But everything about him was drifting into mind now.

He was smooth, and mature, and textbook good looking, the latter having never really been my type. He could have been one of those Abercrombie models, honestly speaking, and he’d been into me. That was probably why I’d been so obsessed. I could appreciate all that from afar and be cool about it, but when he’d come after me I’d been play-dough in his hands.

The intense, earthy gaze and South African accent hadn’t helped things either, even if he was a little narcissistic.

“Oh, whatever. I’ll come say hi.”

I followed Lou out of the kitchen and into the living room, ignoring Sherry’s muffled giggles.

Jay rose from the sofa when he saw me, and smiled. “Hi,” he said, “How have you been?”

“Fine, yeah, pretty good,” I replied, clearing my throat. “Yourself?” To which Lou laughed, and Jay grinned in that Jay-way of his, and I allowed my gaze to fall to my feet as my cheeks grew warm.

Lou strode deeper into the room and grabbed Jay’s arm, pulling him closer to the TV. “Awkward much. Sherry, Jay. Jay, Sherry; your ex-boyfriend’s best friend. You two have probably met at some point-”

“We have, yes,” Jay affirmed, glancing away from me to my right at her. Once or twice, they’d happened to bump into each other via yours truly. I’d tried to keep that from happening, however, as Sherry had never been fond of him. I’d sort of assumed Jay had no idea, but evidently my efforts at keeping her opinions of him a secret had failed, judging by the look so subtly charged with disdain that he gave her.

“Do you guys want to join us?” Lou asked. “We’re watching a movie and consuming popped corn.”

“Uh, I’m not too sure, we were going to listen to music and skim-read Cosmo,” Sherry replied, settling her hands around my waist and resting her head against my arm. I simply stood, trying to forget about my stained clothing.

“N’aww, you losers can do that later tonight. Jay is only staying until about eight o’clock.”

“Yeah,” Jay murmured. “Join us. It’s been way too long.” So, really, there was no acceptable reply but to shrug and say okay.


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